Many Indians, particularly Hindus, are aware how Swami Vivekanand influenced participants in the Parliament of Religions held in Chicago, USA, in September 1893. The great Indian mystique also popularized Indian philosophy of Vedanta and the Yoga overseas. He was the first modern, global Indian.
Ever since, a resurgent India has influenced world intellectuals and Hollywood’s film-makers alike.
In 1945, when the first nuclear weapon was tested in America, Prof Julius Robert Oppenheimer, “Father of the Atom Bomb” and Head of the Manhattan Project, reacted in a profound manner.
He remarked on how others reacted: “A few people laughed, a few people cried. Most people were silent. I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad Gita; Vishnu is trying to persuade the Prince that he should do his duty and, to impress him, takes on his multi-armed form and says, ‘Now I am become Death, the Destroyer of Worlds. He was referring to Lord Vishnu’s avatar, Sri Krishna, trying to persuade Arjuna to pick up arms against his own clansmen to re-establish an era of righteousness.
The Trinity test of the Project led him to recall the relevant Verse from the Gita: “If the radiance of a thousand suns were to burst at once into the sky, that would be like the splendor of the Mighty one…”
He was, apparently, well-versed with Indian philosophy and the Gita from which he quoted. Many other world intellectuals, including Albert Einstein, who had written a letter to the then US President Franklin D Roosevelt to develop the nuclear bomb to win the Second World War, had interacted with Gurudev Rabindra Nath Tagore and Mahatma Gandhi.
A recent Hollywood blockbuster, Interstellar’s global box office success is amazing. It is based on the 3,000-year-old Vedic idea of a universal super-consciousness that transcends space and time and interconnects all human life. Its astronaut hero, Matthew McConaughey, reminds us of the Upanishads when he sees a seamless whole between “they” who created a wormhole, and “us”, meaning that human minds are not only interconnected but are just reflections within a Cosmic Mind.
Many Hollywood personalities also embraced Buddhism, Yoga and other Indian philosophical systems and traditions. David Lynch supported the transcendental meditation, Richard Gere is a follower of the Dalai Lama, and Julia Roberts became a believer in Hinduism after her role in a film that required her to practice some Hindu practices.
When Keenu Reeves essayed the role of Neo Anderson, a computer programmer in The Matrix, some thought he was playing a neo-Jesus, One Who Would Save The World. It turned out he was popularizing a movie on the Yoga when it said the world is an illusion, Maya, and that we can transcend it. Neo gets armed with the abilities of advanced yogis, like Paramhansa Yogananda,, who can defy the laws of normal reality.
No wonder, Peter Rader’s recent documentary on Yogananda has been a surprise hit. Yogananda was a leading guru who popularized Indian mysticism in America in the 1920s.
Steven Paul Jobs, who pioneered micro-computers in the 1970s-80s, and czar of Apple, had travelled to India in search of spirituality and returned like a Hindu monk. He studied Yogananda’s books which inspired him profoundly to develop iPad and other products.
Earlier, in the 1970s, George Lucas’s magnum opus Star Wars portrayed the Hindu belief in transcendental “force” which could bequeath superhuman powers to the believers, like Luke Skywalker. Lucas’ own beliefs were based on those of Joseph Campbell, a mythologist and believer of the Upanishads.